Friday, June 06, 2008

"Celebrity Terrorist Makeover" (in conversation with Van Badham)


“I don’t do worthy,” says playwright Van Badham, “and [director] James [Beach] doesn’t do worthy. We had to hang out with those worthy people. At one stage in our political development the two of us were sitting in a room full of people who only ate fruit that had fallen from trees.”

So it is that for Poster Girl, the controversial playwright’s return to the Australian stage, Badham has camouflaged her political agenda in a day-glow-pink coat of black comedy.

“Essentially I followed the story of Patty Hearst’s abduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 70s and recast it with what would happen if a similar organisation abducted a celebutante heiress of the likes of Paris Hilton,” says Badham.

“I’m fascinated with celebrity culture of the contemporary period because celebrity has reached new heights since the advent of reality-TV and internet porn. In previous years celebrities were at least actors, singers, dancers or politicians. We now have celebrities who are just celebrities. What would happen if we snatched a celebrity like that and put her in a revolutionary context?”

What happens is celebutante Mindy Xyloine (Shannon Dooley) gives her abductors a lesson in how to work the media. Like Hearst, who assisted her abductors in realising their demands, Mindy gives the Army of Revolutionary Struggle (ARS) a celebrity makeover, teaching them how to stay ‘on message,’ the art of ‘branding,’ and the craft of public relations coups. In this sense Poster Girl comments as much on radical-Leftists’ inability to use the media as on celebutantes’ cynical manipulation of it.

“I think that a lot of the Left fails to compete with these guys like Lindsay Lohan, etc. They are the poster girls of neo-liberalism, the absolute symbols of everything the Right-wing free-market lunatics who’ve totally f*cked-up this planet believe.”

Surely they’re just harmless entertainment?

“No they’re symbols, brands, and they are sending a message – ‘consume, consume, consume,’ because neo-liberalism doesn’t function without consumption. There’s no Market theory if there’s no Market.”

It was Badham’s passionate politics that drove her to “flee” Australia in 2001.

“I’m not a violent person, but five years of Howard was really pushing my boundaries. There are only so many demos a day you can go to. I needed some ‘me’ time so I went to another country.”

Van went to several, working as a playwright in London, Edinburgh, Europe and the US, controversy her only hand-luggage. The US Embassy in Britain even issued a travel warning to American tourists about her play Capital, which foretold Abu Ghraib’s atrocities and how spin-doctors might deal with it. Likewise her play Camarilla predicted a London bombing during a G8 summit two years before it happened. Her musical Ca$h In Christ provoked 7,000 Christian websites to condemn her within 24 hours of it’s London premiere, and got her the front pages of both The Baptist Times and Islam Online. For Glastonbury Festival she staged a musical adaptation of Waiting For Godot performed by a cast of rabbits.

Upon returning to Australia she received a commission from her hometown Wollongong, submitting a play predicting the recent political scandal there, which the commissioning authority refused to stage.

Badham, who claims to read eight newspapers a day, says her Cassandra-like talent to foretell the future is no mystery.

“If you read news media, consume information, you can make predictions about events. That’s what I try to do.”

She believes it’s important to couch those bleak insights in humour.

“First and foremost I’m in the entertainment business, and I don’t think it’s worth mobilising everybody you know and the great unwashed to come and see a show to bore the shit out of them.”

If her predictions are consistent Al Qaeda will soon abduct Nicole Richie for a celebrity makeover. How will that go?

“I think they’d be better dressed. One of the reasons Al Qaeda has stayed very much a fringe operation is because they’re not very stylin’”

Badham believes the theatre should be the one place she can say anything she wants without fearing the consequences.

“That’s the point of going to the theatre. If you want to have a bland evening stay at home and talk to your partner.”

“Poster Girl”

By Van Badham.

Directed by James Beach.

Starring; Shannon Dooley, Fayssal Bazzi, Sam Haft, Susie Lindeman, Peter East, Marika Aubrey, Lucinda Gleeson, Andy Lees, Simon Corfield.

Old Fitzroy Theatre.

$28/$20 ($34 for beer, laksa & show)

Bookings 1300 GET TIX


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